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Visage

+ {Strange Cruise} + {Steve Strange}

In the world of contemporary music, whenever the so-called “new romantic” genre is bandied about, SPANDAU BALLET, ABC and, to a lesser extent DURAN DURAN, may come to mind – Steve Strange’s VISAGE being thrown in for good measure. But it ain’t necessarily so? Does dressing as a pirate actually make one a pirate? A treasure explored a bit more deeply, Welsh-born London lad Steven “Strange” Harrington (vocals), with Rusty Egan (drums) and Midge Ure (multi) – from RICH KIDS to both future ULTRAVOX alumni (as was synth man Billy Currie); plus MAGAZINE guys Dave Formula (keyboards), Barry Adamson (bass) and John McGeoch (guitar), transpired into a pool of mega-talented studio personnel. It would therefore be altogether dishonest to ignore their synth-pop, new wave and punk roots; rich boy Strange had cut his teeth in awfully-titled punks, The Moors Murderers, after a time as roadie for GENERATION X.
First recording, a cover of ZAGER & EVANS’ `In The Year’ (augmented by the aforementioned URE) was initially turned down late ’78 by E.M.I., but undeterred the pair brought in some friends and signed deal with indie imprint, Radar. As VISAGE, the single `Tar’ flopped unceremoniously at a time when garish electro was becoming increasingly fashionable.
Polydor Records came to the rescue in 1980.
Their eponymous release, VISAGE (1980) {*8}, which soon garnered a silver disc, also spawned a second 45, `Fade To Grey’, soared into the Top 10, topping charts all over the continent. One could listen to this piece plus others and truly sense a spirit of collaborative triage from messrs Strange, Ure and Egan. Reactionary Top 20 entry, `Mind Of A Toy’ (complete with GODLEY & CRÈME’s Top Of The Pops-banned video) to the moody, vocoded effects of `Moon Over Moscow’, the VISAGE machine was humming along quite nicely. A movie deal was in the works, and Strange was thoroughly revelling in his role as focal point; the eponymous `Visage’ remix single stalled at No.21.
THE ANVIL (1982) {*7} was subsequently dropped out from a new romantic skyline, although the poseur extraordinaire of the nuovo glitterati was cutting it thin as dwindling members had bailed to pursue their daytime jobs. Another Top 10-rated silver disc was in lieu of a pair of glorious smashes in `The Damned Don’t Cry’ and `Night Train’; when the exclusive `Pleasure Boys’ failed to gain entry into the Top 40, night-clubber Steve looked to be again out in the rain. A fly on the wall might suggest Strange’s brooding and drama-fuelled antics were beginning to wear thin with his public. It was certainly not the time to release a best-of “Singles” set.
One could say Steve’s strange decision to move VISAGE out of the studio and into the seedy concert venues was more sugar turning into shit, as he was pretty much a beaten boy when BEAT BOY {*4} was unleashed in 1984. It’s not that the flop album didn’t have its moments (check out `Questions’ and the title track), but the longer, rock-orientated tunes seemed to alienate potential listeners even if there were fewer of them.
Teaming up with the singer from SANDII in STRANGE CRUISE, an eponymous set in ’86 and a few sell-out 45s were hardly the injection he needed. In 1987, while still a part of Stringfellows nightclub scene, he was stabbed by intruders, although not fatally.
After nearly 30 years of roaming in a musical and personal wilderness full of hit-and-miss projects, self-abuse and minor brushes with the law, Strange managed to somehow reinvent himself and emerge with an all-new VISAGE recording and touring line up (save for Steve Barnacle), resulting in the much-lauded HEARTS AND KNIVES (2013) {*7}; `Shameless Fashion’, `Never Enough’, `Dreamer I Know’, `Hidden Sign’ and `She’s Electric (Coming Around)’ all chosen as singles. As if fashion and classical were entwined, 2014’s ORCHESTRAL {*7} was an interesting career-spanning retrospective; featuring fresh classics augmented by the Prague Philharmonic.
Years of the “good life” had caught up with Steve of late and, on 12 February 2015, approximately two months on from suffering “breathing difficulties”, the man of glitz died of heart failure while in Egypt. A farewell to his many new romantic followers of fashion, VISAGE’s swansong DEMONS TO DIAMONDS {*6} was released several months on in November. Highlighting a cover of BOWIE’s `Loving The Alien’ (augmented by Didier `Space’ Marouani, SIMPLE MINDS’ Mick MacNeil and his usual team), proceeds of the set would go to a specially designed charity to help stylish people with musical fashion ideas.
© MC Strong 1994-96 GRD // rev-up CG/MCS Dec2014-Nov2015

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